Why Suicides in the Workplace are Increasing

A report last week in Canada about a suicide at an IBM office was a sobering reminder of the recent rise in people who take their own lives at work. While little is known about the tragedy in Markham, Ontario, even one workplace suicide is too many.

We don’t do nearly enough to prevent adult bullying in the workplace—which I believe is even more common than school bullying,  given that as many as 120,000 deaths per year are attributable to workplace stress. I’ve written extensively on this subject in my posts and in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. This is an issue that needs to be brought into the light of day so that treatment and prevention can be discussed, but far too often the stigma surrounding such a death makes such conversation impossible.

Whatever has encouraged the suicide numbers to rise in the workplace, it’s an issue that requires all of us to step out of our role as bystander or witness and become activists for our colleagues. When I was a senior executive, I personally intervened several times when a person was in dire need of help. Ignoring the signs because of your personal discomfort won’t make the problem go away. Think of it like a potential heart attack—if a friend was having chest pains, you would get them to an emergency room because to fail to do so could have deadly consequences. It’s the same with someone who may be thinking about taking their own life. Two excellent resources to reach out to for help are:

·       National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800.273.8255

·       The Trevor Project Lifeline: 866.488.7386

It’s important to understand how bullying plays into rates of depression and suicide. When people are going through trauma, especially when it’s in a setting where distress is viewed as weakness, they are cut off from the support they need to cope. This is why the Faas Foundation is working with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to ascertain how people feel at work and how the tools of emotional intelligence can prevent such tragedies. Unfortunately, when I discuss this with members of the business community they are often skeptical. They don’t yet realize how feelings drive organizational behavior—but I believe this will be the key to a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace for everyone.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK